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Hospitals oppose Bush health plan

24th January 2007

23052006_usahealth1.jpgUnited States President George W. Bush has unveiled plans to finance new, state-based health insurance programmes in his State of the Union address.

But before he had even made his speech, hospitals were lobbying Congress not to support the proposals, because they would involve redirecting funds currently used to compensate hospitals for treating people without insurance.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said other sources of funding might also be used for the proposed US$30 billion package.

But hospital lobbyists said the industry could be burdened further by the plan.

In addition to being paid by the federal government to treat patients enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and other programmes, hospitals receive special payments designed to compensate for bills unpaid by uninsured patients, who are legally entitled to hospital treatment.

Both Medicare and Medicaid make such payments through their disproportionate share hospital (DSH) programmes to facilities that provide a higher-than-average amount of charity or uncompensated care.

While hospitals support the goal of universal insurance in principle, they caution against reducing the amount of money dedicated to programmes for the uninsured.

The executive director of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, Chris Burch, said public hospitals “would be quite distressed if this programme would be cut to pay for another programme.?

Publicly owned hospitals and hospitals at medical schools provide more charity care than other facilities, and industry groups were concerned that a vital safety net would be taken away from the uninsured, without being replaced across the board by the new proposals.

Bush proposes changing tax law to limit exemptions currently enjoyed by the well-insured middle classes, and redirecting those exemptions to those who buy insurance on their own behalf.

He also wants to use federal funding (either new or redirected) to encourage states to come up with programmes themselves which will guarantee access to low-cost, basic health insurance plans and include financial assistance for low-income people.

So far, the proposals have been received with scepticism by Democratic politicians, employers' and labour groups, and socioeconomic commentators.

 

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